BVA president accused of ‘empty virtue signalling’ over brachycephalic comments


BVA president Gudrun Ravetz.

CELEBRITIES, advertisers and the public must stop normalising flat-faced dogs’ health problems.

That is the controversial view of British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Gudrun Ravetz. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last Thursday, she said the move was necessary for the sake of animal welfare.

Talking on the programme about the health and welfare issues faced by flat-faced  (brachycephalic) dogs such as Pugs, French Bulldogs and Bulldogs, Mrs Ravetz made it clear that what is seen as ‘normal’ and cute for these dogs, such as snorting and snuffling, is in reality a result of debilitating respiratory problems due to the squashed faces that have made them so popular.

She says the problems can be so severe that many of these dogs can suffer breathing difficulties even when doing day-to-day activities like walking or eating.

The programme aired shortly after a Kennel Club report showed that all flat-faced breeds have experienced a huge boom in popularity recently, with the French Bulldog soon set to be the most popular breed in the UK. It also highlighted that media, advertising and celebrity owners have helped drive the appeal of, and increased the demand for these breeds.

Following the interview Ms Ravetz said: “We shouldn’t be buying and breeding dogs on the way we want them to look – it should always be about prioritising welfare above appearance. These are breeds that can suffer just by walking around or eating, which is why we’re calling on the media and advertisers to stop using them in their adverts. It is also difficult to turn on the TV, check Instagram or see a celebrity photo without also seeing a brachycephalic breed so it’s not surprising that demand for these dogs is rising.

“And we would also encourage anyone considering getting a brachycephalic breed to speak to their local vet and think about choosing a healthier breed or crossbreed instead.”

Lee Connor, a DOG WORLD columnist, known for his interest in the brachycephalic breeds, totally refuted Ms Ravetz’s advice: “Once again all we see is empty virtue-signalling from the likes of Ms Ravetz who wants these breeds banned from adverts but, by her own admission, also talks about seeing these dogs plastered on social media and pictured with celebrities (I’d also like to add to that platforms like YouTube).

“This genie is well and truly out of the bottle; banning them from adverts will obviously have little effect and it would be far more productive to work with and promote responsible breeding and ownership, given the main issues associated with these breeds is over-indulgence, obesity, puppy farming and illegal imports, instead of lambasting the responsible breeders at every opportunity.”


Slow news day

Alison Mount, Pug breed note writer for DW, added: “Last Thursday, when the BBC had a slow news day waiting for election results, the brachycephalic-hating BVA president was given another opportunity to air her views.

“Ms Ravetz’s thoughts on the subject are not new and she unfortunately did nothing to help the responsible breeders who do care about the breed and are working at improving health or to help the public who wants to own these breeds and needs solid advice.

“The vets usually see the overweight and unhealthy brachycephalics who are indeed in trouble, frequently from indulgence and caused by poor breeding.

“The media and celebrity owners have not helped the welfare of the breed giving a shop window to unscrupulous breeders whose registrations are welcomed by the KC.

“I would have expected the president of the BVA to have more pressing things to do with her time than follow advertising campaigns, YouTube and social media. Perhaps she should address herself to the education of the general public on how to buy responsibly, or work on the illegal import of puppies and puppy farming which is as big a business as it always has been.

“Pug Welfare has reached a new high this year of over 130 pugs needing all sorts of medical intervention apart from new homes. New homes that are suitable are now more difficult to find. We do not need this.”

Vicky Collins-Nattrass, the Bulldog breed council health co-ordinator, added her views on Ms Ravetz’s comments: “The successful health testing and the participation of breed enthusiasts is being undermined by bad breeders, importing and producing to fill the gap in the market purely for the money. Vets don’t see healthy dogs and they have no way of determining where the dog in front of them has originated.

“We object to statements made including all Bulldogs, saying everyone is unhealthy when we know this is just not true and have scientific data to back our statement.”

Fellow Bulldog enthusiast and DW breed note writer Hayley Dodwell agreed with the comments of Mrs Collins-Nattrass. She said: “Responsible breeders are taking action and health tests are being undertaken. Dogs holding health certificates are winning shows proving that healthy dogs are gaining top honours. Our breed clubs are inviting the Cambridge university BOAS testing to be carried out on dogs whose owners have volunteered them for participation and the results of this test goes towards their health certificate grading.”

She opposed Ms Ravetz’s suggestion that members of the public should look to buy crossbreeds rather than certain pedigree dogs.

“There can’t be a guarantee with any puppy that there won’t be health problems in the future.

“And to buy a crossbreed you could get a puppy with the health problems associated with both breeds.


Reputable breeders

“Rather than encouraging people not to buy brachycephalic breeds, Ms Ravetz should be urging people to buy from reputable breeders who health test their dogs and give a lifetime of support. Ask them to do their research into the breed and breeders before buying and go to breeders who are recommended.”

DW’s two French Bulldog breed note writers also responded to Ms Ravetz’s radio interview.

Penny Rankine-Parsons, who is also the breed health co-ordinator, said: “Banning adverts will not have any immediate effect on the numbers of these dogs being bred. Perhaps in five years’ time it will, but by then I hope the popularity bubble will have burst of its own accord.

“Nevertheless I have to agree with the BVA president that many owners and breeders should stop normalising ‘flat-faced dogs’ health problems but they are usually totally unaware of the problems due to lack of knowledge.

“However, there is no excuse for the many vets who also normalise breed-specific problems and often write the comment about breathing ability ‘normal for the breed’ repeatedly written on the health test forms that I receive back through the French Bulldog Health Scheme.

“Perhaps vets as well as the general public need more education about these breeds? Vets are making plenty of money from treating the brachycephalic breeds and making even more money now that they are so popular, so I would hope that the correct advice is given if an owner wants to breed from a dog who show signs of respiratory compromise or other related breed-specific problem.”

She went on to say that the KC and the breed clubs are working hard to send out the correct messages but that it was impossible to reach everyone who breeds a litter or wants to buy a puppy.

She concluded: “We know already know education is the only way forward. There is ground-breaking research being undertaken now to help with the health issues of these breeds, breed clubs have health schemes in place, and the French Bulldog scheme has been in operation for almost eight years.

“Gudrun Ravetz is just repeating what we breed people have been saying for a long time, so her comments are nothing new. I do wish that ‘academic’ vets would actually listen to us breed people and instead of lambasting us, give us more support and encouragement.”

Jane Morgan added: “I agree with Mr Connor’s comments promoting responsible breeding. Health testing is an absolute must for anyone before they start a breeding programme and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome should be one of the top tests along with degenerative myelopathy, heart, patella and eye testing. The breed clubs are a font of knowledge regarding these tests and are always willing and very able to offer a vast amount of help and advice.

“Responsible breeders do prioritise welfare above appearance, but appearance is still important for the breed Standard and soundness of the dog.

I also agree with Ms Ravetz when she says we shouldn’t buy dogs on the way they look, which is where a huge problem for the breed lies at the moment with the fashion trends of designer dogs in fad colours and sizes. This is something that needs addressing and something the clubs have been battling for quite some time now, especially with the number of imported dogs we have coming in and being falsely registered as standard colours when clearly they are not.”

“I have a two-year-old Frenchie who regularly attends agility training and contests along with another three French Bulldogs, one aged almost eight and still as fit as a fiddle. I have seen some obese Labradors who wouldn’t keep up.”